MATTHEW LIND­SAY

Should Hibs have fol­lowed Hearts’ blue­print

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Matthew Lind­say

HEARTS were rightly lauded last sea­son as they cruised to a record-break­ing win in the Lad­brokes Cham­pi­onship that se­cured their pro­mo­tion back to the Premier­ship at the first time of ask­ing.

Hav­ing flirted with ex­tinc­tion the year be­fore, it was a re­mark­able achieve­ment of which ev­ery­one in­volved could feel jus­ti­fi­ably proud.

But the less said about the ab­ject fail­ure in the three cup com­pe­ti­tions they were in­volved in the bet­ter.

The Tynecas­tle club were thrashed 4-1 in the Chal­lenge Cup in Au­gust af­ter their man­ager Rob­bie Neil­son branded it a “de­vel­op­ment com­pe­ti­tion” and handed five teenagers their first team de­buts. They then lost heav­ily to Celtic both in the League Cup in Septem­ber and in the Scot­tish Cup in Novem­ber.

Those de­feats, though, meant Hearts were free to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the league in the fi­nal five months of the 2014/15 cam­paign.

They lost on just three oc­ca­sions in 22 out­ings dur­ing that time – to Falkirk in Jan­uary and then to Rangers and Hibs in April af­ter the ti­tle had been won – achieved their main ob­jec­tive with seven games re­main­ing and racked up 91 points.

Will, I won­der, Hearts’ great Ed­in­burgh ri­vals Hibs come to re­gret their pur­suit of sil­ver­ware on more than one front this sea­son? The Easter Road club’s in­volve­ment in the League Cup fi­nal last month was, de­spite the painful loss to Ross County, en­joyed by their sup­port­ers, over 30,000 of whom crammed into Ham­p­den.

Their meet­ing with Rangers in the fi­nal of the Scot­tish Cup – a tour­na­ment they have, in­fa­mously, not tri­umphed in since way back in 1902 – next month is ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated by their eter­nally op­ti­mistic fans.

But is it any co­in­ci­dence the sparkling form Alan Stubbs’ charges showed as they came from eight points be­hind to draw level with Mark War­bur­ton’s men at the top of the sec­ond tier ta­ble has dis­ap­peared dur­ing the sec­ond half of the sea­son given their pun­ish­ing sched­ule of matches?

Hibs have now played 47 games in to­tal and have two league fix­tures re­main­ing. If they fail to leapfrog Falkirk and fin­ish sec­ond they will have to suc­cess­fully ne­go­ti­ate six Premier­ship play-off matches in or­der to win pro­mo­tion. Af­ter all that, they will then have to take part in the Scot­tish Cup fi­nal.

It all proved too much for Rangers, ad­mit­tedly a far older team, last year. Their legs gave way in the two-legged play-off fi­nal and they crashed to a 6-1 ag­gre­gate de­feat to a Mother­well team which had been in­volved in 10 fewer games. Stubbs has per­suaded Hibs to in­vest in sports drinks which he hopes will give his player en­ergy and aid their re­cov­ery in the com­ing weeks.

I fear there is lit­tle chance any of them will be quaffing cham­pagne, ei­ther for win­ning a place in the Premier­ship or lift­ing the Scot­tish Cup, any time soon due to an ad­mirable if ill-con­sid­ered re­fusal to con­cen­trate on the Cham­pi­onship.

AND AN­OTHER THING

The chill­ing prophe­cies of im­pend­ing fi­nan­cial Ar­maged­don in Scot­tish foot­ball made by so many when Rangers were placed into the Third Divi­sion back in 2012 have proved in­ac­cu­rate since.

Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief ex­ec­u­tive, re­vealed two years ago that the ab­sence of their city ri­vals from the top flight was cost­ing the Park­head club in the re­gion of £10m a sea­son.

Nev­er­the­less, the Scot­tish cham­pi­ons have con­tin­ued to per­form well fi­nan­cially, de­spite their fail­ure to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League both last sea­son and this, due to the sale of play­ers and a pru­dent busi­ness plan.

Other Lad­brokes Premier­ship clubs have pos­i­tively flour­ished. Aberdeen, In­ver­ness Cale­do­nian This­tle, Ross County and St John­stone have all en­joyed great on and off-field suc­cess.

In­ver­ness posted a record profit of £254,240 at the end of the last fi­nan­cial year – be­fore they had won the Scot­tish Cup fi­nal or Ryan Christie had been trans­ferred to Celtic for £500,000. Yet, hav­ing Rangers com­pet­ing in the Premier­ship in the 2016/17 cam­paign will ease the con­sid­er­able strug­gle many clubs have had to break even.

Kil­marnock an­nounced last week they had made a loss of £724,406 for the year to May 30, 2015. Jim Mann, their out­go­ing chair­man, con­firmed “losses of this scale are un­sus­tain­able” and are “a ma­jor con­cern”.

The in­creased crowds and rev­enues which they will ex­pe­ri­ence next sea­son as a re­sult of their Ibrox ri­vals’ com­pet­ing in the same divi­sion will be wel­comed by them and many oth­ers.

No dis­re­spect to Aberdeen, who have launched gal­lant chal­lenges in the league, but I am look­ing for­ward to see­ing a mean­ing­ful Scot­tish ti­tle race once again and a more buoy­ant elite league in gen­eral.

TO­MOR­ROW Nick Rodger

Will, I won­der, Hearts’ great Ed­in­burgh ri­vals Hibs come to re­gret their pur­suit of sil­ver­ware on more than one front this sea­son?

WRONG CHOICES: Hibs man­ager Alan Stubbs has seen his side slump, in part due to their cup com­mit­ments

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